The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday December 4th

Budget Calls for Airport to Stay Open

By Jeff Silver

Assistant University Editor

A provision in the state budget approved by the N.C. General Assembly last week will force UNC to keep the Horace Williams Airport open until 2005, a move that counters administrators' wishes to begin closing the airport immediately.

Chancellor James Moeser announced UNC's intentions to close the airport at a press conference April 30. He cited the cost associated with maintaining the airport and safety concerns as reasons for the planned closing.

The plan was opposed by some area residents, including pilots of small planes who use the airport.

The University-owned airport is located off of Estes Drive in northwest Chapel Hill.

Moeser was unavailable for comment last week.

Carolyn Elfland, associate vice chancellor for campus services, declined to comment directly on the actions of the General Assembly.

But she said the airport should close, noting that it will cost UNC $2 million to make several safety and security related improvements at the site in addition to the $250,000 the University pays annually for the airport's maintenance.

One of the concerns for UNC administrators is that trees in the area would have to be removed to meet Federal Aviation Administration requirements for the approach area, Elfland said.

"We were concerned about the aesthetic and environmental impact, as well as the cost," she said.

In addition to serving private planes, the airport is home to the Area Health Education Centers. AHEC is a University program that flies UNC faculty around North Carolina to coordinate health-care clinics and programs.

In April, Moeser said officials would look into moving the program to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. But the budget provision calls for UNC's chancellor to consult with the legislature's Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations before moving AHEC from Horace Williams.

AHEC Director Tom Bacon said although Horace Williams is more convenient than RDU for the program, his group had nothing to do with the legislation.

"We understand and support the chancellor's stance on the airport," he said.

Warren Morningstar, vice president of communications for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said he is pleased with the legislature's action.

"We still think that it is an extremely valuable airport, and the area will be worse off without it," he said.

Morningstar said his group had wanted to keep Horace Williams open for five more years but added that the requirements in the provision are better than UNC's original plan.

University officials said they hoped to use the Horace Williams land as part of the Carolina North tract, a mixed-use facility set to open in the next 20 to 50 years.

Elfland said the she and other administrators will announce UNC's next move after they have had time to further examine the budget provision and its consequences. She said, "We haven't gotten to the details of how we're going to respond."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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